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What Is Free Form Role Playing: The Life and Death of a Genre

Updated on March 28, 2014

A Failing Art

Now, in the grand scheme of things, I am a young man; 24, just graduated from college, still unmarried for another six months. Yet, despite this real life immaturity, I do consider myself one of the oldest, most veteran Free Form Role-players still active in today's dwindling community. Eleven years ago I began this hobby; a hobby that has been a consistent aspect my life ever since; a hobby that has convinced me that my future is in one of the most obsolete fields of all time – writing.

I have seen the best and worst of the FFRP community in action; many brilliant authors, even more illiterate young-ins, and definitely a fair-share of God-Moding jerks with authority-complexes. I’ve seen times where thirty people would be logged into a forum at one given time; I’ve seen times where an entire story would be finished in less than a week; but sadly, I’ve am also part of our current generation; the era of inactivity; of me alone surfing between threads; of my own posts being the last post on every thread in a given forum. This deeply saddens me.

A Snap shot of a typical FFRP Session.
A Snap shot of a typical FFRP Session. | Source

What is Free Form Role-playing?

Let's take a second to get a better understanding of what Free Form Role-play, or FFRP, actually is. Stemming from the ever popular Dungeon and Dragons table-top game, FFRPer's embrace the freedom of these similar gaming styles, replacing calculations and dice, with sheer writing ability and imagination. Where in Dungeons and Dragons all character actions and interactions are dictated by a combination of these previously mentioned preset calculation values and numerous rolled dice, in FFRP there are no predicated values that determine the effects of a characters decisions.

For example, if a writer decides he wants his character to engage an NPC or other playable character, he has the ability to write that engagement into his post, describing in as much detail as possible said character's actions. The only rules are to first, obey the game master's rules and second, to avoid what is known as God-Moding. God-Moding is the act of overpowering a characters importance or ability, or also, more commonly, dictating the actions of another players character. If you swing a sword at another player, you are not allowed, unless previously arranged between both players, to decide what the engaged players action is going to be. It doesn't matter if you write-in that the character is going to defend, be struck with, or even counter, killing your own character. Decisions like this are completely up to the player running a character.

Free Form Role-play is most commonly internet-based, being found on web forums, Facebook Pages, and even in the chat bars of numerous Massively Multiplayer Online Video Games like Warcraft or Star Wars the Old Republic. Unlike Dungeons and Dragons, which is done in small group via vocalized commands and the movement of physical figurines, FFRP is entirely played through writing. Players type small to midsized posts describing a specific set of activities, ensuring they coincide with previous player posts. Some Role-play sessions be the size of a short story when completed, while others teeter on the edge of novel scale. Unlike other forms of Role-playing, FFRP has the very helpful bonus of helping aspiring writers to develop their craft.

My Rise and Fall

Now let’s go back in my history a bit. It is fall 2003. I am thirteen, young, bored, and extremely grammatically unsound. My brother, a year and a half older than me is a member of the gifted program at my high school. I easily could follow suit, but decide my interests lie elsewhere. One day, after school, my brother decides to show me a new web game one of the gifted-program teachers showed the club members earlier – Nation States. Nation States is a simulation game where you create a country and implement a government style, enacting control of hotbed issues that come across the wire daily. The goal is to create a stable and powerful nation to stack up against other player created nations. I was honestly terrible at it, finding it more fun to create evil, corrupt regimes with terribly childish names. Still, Nation States did serve one purpose – beginning my career in FFRP.

I, being a Star Wars fanatic, created a Star Wars inspired nation. In my search for a suitable region, or collection of players, I found a place called The Galactic Senate. I being the angst-ridden tweener I was decided to be rebellious and join a Sith faction the region. I was soon convinced to join the forum the region had created to better run their federation of nations. The forum was saturated with members, posts were being submitted every ten minutes at all times of the day, and it was here I witnessed my first instance of Free Form Role-playing.

I was slow at first. Unsure if this kind of thing would suit me. I mean look at me? I’m a country boy from Central Pennsylvania. I liked hunting, fishing, football, and the occasional video game on my PlayStation. How was I supposed to sit on a forum and write long messages to people I never met? At the time, it sounded more like homework than fun. But I swallowed my pride and tried it anyway, digging deep into my childhood to find that passion for Star Wars my dad instilled in me the first time he sat me down to watch A New Hope. I was slow, unskilled, and uninterested at first; but as my grammar improved, my creativity began to thrive, and my stature in the community began to elevate a small flame of joy began to grow inside of me.

I couldn’t get enough. I rose to the tops of the ranks at The Galactic Senate. Helped it change to the Galactic Republic. Created two new forums to try and keep the forum alive after a tragic split. Unfortunately, like all good things it had to end. My love, however, didn’t. I traveled from forum to forum; the RPG Consortium, Wildfire, back to TGR. When they didn’t satiate me I tried to create my own; three times I did this and three times it failed. At this point I realized the community was dying, the fad was over. Call of Duty and MMORPG’s were killing the drive to write. Gaming became more important than interaction and creativity. FFRP was dead, no matter how many times I tried to resuscitate it over the years, it had almost completely out of time.

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A Call To Arms

Still, I strongly believe there is still hope. MMORPG's, though one of the reasons FFRP has suffered such a tragic downturn in interest, still may prove to be the crafts deliverance. Groups of creative, three dimensional people who care more for story than the action; more for originality than bland entertainment; who are willing to choose Role-play based servers over the traditional PvP servers, continue to keep the art alive via chat channel FFRP. These players need to take the torch and continue to carry it proudly. Extend your sessions into forums for your clans that allow writers everywhere to continue to hone their skills in a fun and engaging manner.

I am putting my last ounce of faith into these types of communities; please save a dead art from becoming eternally obsolete. I’ve seen the hay day of FFRPing. It is beautiful, fun, and encouraging; encouraging to see people haven’t given up on art, creativity, and the power of the human mind. Let this hub’s title be a mistake. Make me look foolish in pronouncing this art form before it has taken its last breath. Let those characters we have created in modern video games come to life and become more than pixels and coding running across more pixels and coding. Save Free Form Role-playing so more young people see writing as a viable art to embrace. As Darth Revan says, “Death is such a small impediment.” We as a community can rise from our tattered robes and become more powerful then anyone could have imagined.

Live Action RP, a similar form to FFRP done by actually dressing up and acting out actions.
Live Action RP, a similar form to FFRP done by actually dressing up and acting out actions. | Source

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